Total eclipse of the heart

Heath Brower–Staff Writer

On August 21, 2017, an event of astronomical proportions occurred. The complete shadow of the Moon averaging sixty eight miles wide raced over the central United States starting on the west coast of Oregon to the east coast of South Carolina passing over ten states in the process.

A substantial portion of the United States was able to see a partial eclipse, but according to several Dordt students seeing a partial eclipse was not comparable to the experience of totality. Some described the experience as humbling, profound and incomparably beautiful. In an interview, one student confessed that he did not expect to be impacted as deeply as he anticipated.

“It is just a shadow after all, but it drew so many people together from all around the country in a way nothing else. I felt moved to stand amongst my friends and so many others to stand in pure silent awe as we waited for the eclipse to begin.”

Another student from Dordt expressed that the experience was eerie.

“I don’t know exactly how to describe it,” he said. “As we waited everything progressively became silent, it was like all of nature knew what was happening and played along.”

Predictably, Dordt’s astronomy professor, Channon Visscher also made a trip down to the totality zone. In an interview with the Diamond, he shared that he also felt unprepared for the serious impact the event would have on him.

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Photo by: Emma Stoltzfus

“It was one of those things that hits you in the head and the heart,” said Visscher. “It felt as if I had gotten to take a peak behind the curtain for a moment to see the creator making it all happen. Although God is sustaining all creation all the time, a total eclipse is an event that has a such a sense of singularity about it, that if you were to even blink you would miss the beauty, awesomeness and grandeur of the eclipse altogether.”

 

Collectively, those from Dordt who made the trip to the totality zone shared that the experience was well worth the miles.

Totality however only occurs during one kind of eclipse, a total solar eclipse. In order for a total solar eclipse to take place, several conditions need to be met. First, the moon and sun must be in the same part of the sky at the same time with the moon in the middle of the new moon phase, which lasts only a couple hours.

 

Second, the moon must be crossing the orbital plane of the Earth in relationship to the sun. The moon orbits Earth at a five-degree tilt in relationship to the orbital plane of earth and crosses it two times each month every thirteen and a half days. Thirdly, the moon must be close enough to the earth during its orbit that it casts a complete shadow on the earth’s surface. Because the orbit of the moon around the earth is not a circle but elliptical, the moon is only close enough to create a total eclipse twelve days out of a given month.

 

For all of the astronomical variables to line up and take place at the same time is rare. The last total eclipse to stretch across the continental United States was in 1918, and only fifteen total solar eclipses have occurred American soil in the past one hundred and fifty years. For those who missed out on experiencing the 2017 total solar eclipse, another chance is just around the corner in April of 2024 when the complete shadow of the moon will once again make a pass through the U.S starting in Texas and making its way up towards the northeast coast.

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